Using the Functional Properties of Starch to Enhance Cereals, Pasta, Bars, and Related Products

Cereals today are predominately whole grains, with or without added starches, sweeteners, and other nutritional additives. Many cereals depend on the expansion capability of the flour(s) to develop and maintain the texture and eating quality for the finished product being produced. Referring back to the sections pertaining to “extrusion” and “instant starches,” we can relate to the potential contribution of starches to cereals.

Cereal manufacturers have utilized extrusion as one method for preparing ready-to-eat cereals. Partial to total gelatinization of the starchy portion of the formulation is developed during the extrusion processing of cereal systems during production. Therefore, the effect of processing can be as significant as the functional properties generated during and postprocessing by added starch from the flour or specific grain used for the cereal type.

Cereal producers today utilize added starch (native wheat or maize) to enhance the texture, processing, and functional properties of the finished cereal. In addition to the above processing, many cereal products commercially available today are coated with individual ingredients or complex blends to provide additional functional attributes. Examples of these additions would be the use of sucrose coatings, dextrin coatings, or the inclusion of native starches, lipids, or proteins to enhance the bowl life of a cereal. Basically, these are added to enhance the reduction of the absorption of liquids by the cereal.

The property of extended bowl life has been a key research issue for many cereal producers over the years, a property that offers longer crisp texture to a cereal when mixed with a liquid, usually milk. The coating of cereal pieces has been an accepted method for years; however, the desire for a cereal product requiring no post-extrusion coating, while providing equal stability still exists. Improvement has been achieved, but none to date match what can be accomplished with a coating.

Typical starch usage in cereal products varies based on the functional attribute of the starch for the cereal being produced. Amounts of 3%-20% could be utilized if the starch was an inclusion ingredient. If used in the coating application, it could range from 10% to 30%. The coating process has now led to another line of cereal-like products. It also created an extension to the snack industry with cereal-like products, the granola or whole grain-coated snacks. We have bars, clusters, and bits for our enjoyment. All are just a step from the cereal product itself.

Wheat, oat, barley, and rice flours are popular starters for cereals. Wheat, oat, rice, tapioca, and potato starches are commonly used in many cereals as well as the cereal-like snacks. Usage in bars, clusters, etc., has been from 2% to 15%. The level is dependent upon the functional characteristic desired.

Pasta in most of the world has standards for processing and product names. However, some manufacturers have become creative and some standards have been softened to allow the use of nonstandard ingredients to help enhance stability and processing both during production and post-consumer/retail use.

Foods that have been developed through thermal processing (canning) required the food scientist to introduce nonstandard ingredients into the pasta portion of the food system, thus creating a fanciful name item. Monosubstituted and cross-linked starches within specific modification levels can provide the unique functional properties desired. Waxy maize, common maize, and tapioca are very typically used in these products at 0.5%-2.0% for the pasta and then again at 2%-5% in the sauce portion, if one is present.

For the production of pasta products starches can provide greater stability and improve reconstitution at the consumer level. Added starch from common and waxy maize will reduce friability and improve water uptake during consumer processing. Levels of 1%-3% typically are added as a flour replacement and this should contribute to these properties. Low-DE maltodextrins can also be utilized when formulating pasta-type products. They too, will provide improvements as stated above, but the food scientist should consider color development, as maltodextrins are a type of sweetener solid.

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